The Man Who Put the Hollywood in Hollywood Park–Part Two

lincolnvillagetheater

In July 1968 Oscar Brotman made a triumphant return to Hollywood Park with the opening of the 1,440-seat Lincoln Village Theater. It was located in the Lincoln Village Shopping Center, about two blocks upriver from Brotman’s shuttered and soon-to-be-demolished Tower Cabana Club.

Brotman now had a partner, Leonard Sherman, and in 1968 Brotman-Sherman Theaters, Inc., owned about 15 Chicago-area theaters, making it one of the largest local chains. Eventually they would double that number.

The Last Picture Palace

Reminiscent of Miami Beach Art Deco style, the theater’s brilliant white façade sparkled in the sunlight. Tall neon cursive lettering atop the roof gave the building more height and retro flair. A man recalls being able to see Lincoln Village Theater from the Church Street bridge over the North Shore Sanitary Channel, a distance of several miles. It was the last single-screen movie house of this size built in Chicago, a last attempt at bringing 1920s-era glamour to the movie-going experience.

Lincoln Village Theater was just like downtown, at a time when downtown was no longer just like downtown. The lobby was expansive, luxurious, lit by dramatic wall sconces and a working fireplace. There was a sunken seating area and fancy restrooms. A place to see and be seen.

Inside the theatre, extra-wide aisles led to extra-cushy seats. A wood-paneled balcony structure rose off the main floor. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, thanks to the deeply raked floor.

Here’s how Scott Marks, writer of the Emulsion Compulsion blog, recalls the stage curtain:

“It took five minutes to part and raise the yardage of various gold floor-to-ceiling curtains and travelers that camouflaged the screen.”

No expense was spared on technical specs, either. The theater was equipped with Cine-Focus 35mm and 70mm projection, a ‘Scope screen and full six-channel stereophonic sound.

Movies and more

The opening  show was No Way to Treat a Lady. I would have been 12 and my parents were strict about movie content, so I’m guessing I didn’t see it. The same year brought Green BeretsRosemary’s Baby, The Producers and How Sweet It Is to the theater, but the first  movie I truly recall seeing at Lincoln Village Theater was the 1969 comedy, If  This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.

For some reason, I really was excited about this movie. Was it the comedy, the adventures travelling through Europe, or just my first movie at Lincoln Village Theater?  I have no idea why that movie made such an impression, but I can still see myself studying the poster in the front window of the theater, counting the days before the movie opened.

I also recall seeing Ben at Lincoln Village Theater on my first real date with a boy two years older, who had a car. My mother wouldn’t let me (very strict parents) go out with him after dark, so we saw a matinee. The best movie I saw there, though, had to be the first Godfather movie. I think I saw it three times. In one day.

Lincoln Village Theatre was booked for a variety of acts as well as movies. In December 1968 Chicago’s Royal European Marionette Theatre settled in for a weeklong run of its “Wizard of Oz” play. The Brothers Zim Revue played for two nights. The Barry Sisters, four nights only. Mickey Katz, “America’s favorite Yiddish comedian,” played the Lincoln Village, as did Larry Best and Eileen Brennan. The  live closed circuit telecast of the 1970 Cassius Clay-Jerry Quarry fight, one-half of the “Double Dynamite” package, sold out in 45 minutes, at $7.50 a seat. And my family attended services for the Jewish High Holidays at the movie theater–it was rented out by Temple Beth-El, the former West Rogers Park congregation that outgrew its Touhy Avenue building.

Starting in the 1980s, ownership of Lincoln Village Theater changed with the seasons. It was partitioned into three odd-shaped boxes, then demolished around 2000 to make room from the Borders bookstore located on the site today.

Some 30 movie houses eventually made up the Brotman-Sherman empire, including the Carnegie, Lake Shore, Portage, Riviera, Hyde Park and my all-time favorite, the Cinema at 151 East Chicago. There are many, many great stories about Brotman’s promotional efforts and I’ll tell you a few of them later this week.

Related: The Man Who Put the Hollywood in Hollywood Park, Part One; Where I Grew Up: the Hollywood Park Neighborhood.

Sources: Scott Marks’ Emulsion Compulsion, Cinema Treasures. Photo of architectural sketch of  from: Lincoln Village Theater Opens Friday. (1968, July 28). Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file),p. e9.  Retrieved October 11, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 – 1987). (Document ID: 646805882). Memory of seeing theater from Evanston.

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22 Responses to The Man Who Put the Hollywood in Hollywood Park–Part Two

  1. Danny October 18, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    I still can’t believe they tore down this theatre. I remember seeing “Fiddler on the Roof” there when it opened. It was a huge deal with reserved seats (I think tickets were $3.00 at the time which we thought was outrageous). Also saw “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” there and a million other films. If memory serves, there was some kind of Saturday morning children’s screenings for a while. Chicago has such a sad history of not preserving its grand movie theatres, especially the irreplaceable ones from the 1920s and 30s. The Granada was my favorite theatre in the city and that’s long gone now. At least the beautiful Uptown hasn’t met the wrecking ball yet.

  2. Frances Archer October 18, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    Danny, did you ever see it as a multiplex? It was unbearable. Surprising that the theater had such a short lifespan.

  3. Bonnie McGrath October 18, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    those theater names sure brought back memories.. and i loved that movie, if it’s tuesday it must be belgium.. sandy dennis?? was she in it?? i will go check my memory on imdb..

  4. Bonnie McGrath October 19, 2010 at 12:08 am #

    oops! never mind. the movie i was thinking of with sandy dennis was the out of towners from 1970..

  5. johnfromdowntown November 12, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    i saw many movies there when i was a kid and I was really sad to see how it ended up during the multiplex days, Lincoln village was a modern theatre when most chicago theatres were crumbling

  6. Johnny Lightning April 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    I remember seeing B.J. and Dirty Dragon there and they had a Hula Hoop contest.(’68-’70?) I wish I still had my autographed picture of them.

  7. Frances Archer April 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Ok remind me: who was B.J.and the dragon?

  8. Johnny Lightning April 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Bill Jackson (B.J.) had a daily kid’s show on channel 32 called Cartoon Town. With Dirty Dragon,Cousin Weird, Old Professor and Mother Plumtree and a sculpture he would mold known as Blob. They were basically people in puppet costumes other than B.J. I remember when they built that theater, white with colored glass panels. I think it changed to 3 around ’84.

  9. Frances Archer April 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Well, that it explains. I do recall the name but don’t think I ever saw it. Frazier Thomas and Garfield Goose was in my time.

  10. jeff weinerg May 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the BJ and Dirty Dragon shows they used to have. it must of been around 1971-72 (i don’t recall exactly). The place was so packed with kids i remember one year sitting on the stairs going up to the balcony and another when we could only sit on the edge of the stage.

    I worked there from 1979 – 81 just before they chopped it in the smaller screens. When i worked there is was owned by the Balasco Brothers (sp?) show also owned WSNS tv.

  11. Frances Archer May 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    Some one did mention them recently. and in fact I couldn’t remember BJ and the dirty dragon, though he sounded familiar.

    Here’s what the earlier comment said:

    Bill Jackson (B.J.) had a daily kid’s show on channel 32 called Cartoon Town. With Dirty Dragon,Cousin Weird, Old Professor and Mother Plumtree and a sculpture he would mold known as Blob. They were basically people in puppet costumes other than B.J. I remember when they built that theater, white with colored glass panels. I think it changed to 3 around ’84.

  12. Jeff K. November 27, 2011 at 7:06 am #

    I saw BJ and Dirty Dragon there too.I still remember my mother commenting on how cute he was (BJ not DD 😉
    Years later a friend and I got kicked out for scaring people by sneaking up on them and yelling/growling “GET OUT” during the Amityville Horror. Saw Saturday Night Fever with my girlfriend 4-5 times there…well we really didn’t watch the movie much!

    A side note about some of my Lincoln Village memories, I was meeting my grandmother for lunch at….at …..aw nuts the name escapes me at the moment, the restaurant that was a little west of the theater,. Any how getting out of my car I glanced west and saw a thin column of smoke. I later learned that was from flight 191.

    There was also a large optometrist in LV where I get my first pair of glasses in 5th grade (’73 -’74).

  13. Keith Sorensen July 2, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    I remember a Halloween costume contest at LVT when it first opened. I won a prize in my age group for my costume as a Headhunter. I was dressed in long black tights, full black face, big curly black wig, and a broomstick with doll heads hanging from it. I must have been 6 or 7 at the time. Boy was it exciting to be up on that big stage in front of so many people. The movie that I remember the most was “Saturday Night Fever”. It played there for what seemed like forever. I can’t forget the huge poster of John Travolta covering the entire side of the theater facing Jersey that was up for months.

  14. Frances Archer July 2, 2012 at 11:43 am #

    Hi, Keith. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your recollections of our old neighborhood. The inside of that theater was enormous, and luxurious as well.

  15. Bob Gassel July 6, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    I too saw a BJ and Dirty Dragon show there….it must have been prior to May 1969, as that’s when we moved to away. I vividly recall running out to go to the bathroom just before the show was about to start, and encountering Bill Jackson right outside the theater door…

    It was also the only theater I ever snuck into…I found a stub in the parking lot, and on a hunch tried using it to get into “The Green Berets”, I was shocked when it worked but was so paranoid about being caught that I had a miserable time watching the movie.

    Oh yeah, the theater was also the first place I wore bell-bottoms….homemade by my mom.

  16. Frances Archer July 6, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    OK, true confessions. It was an easy theater get into. I can’t take credit for the idea, but my friend would tell the ticket seller we just wanted to use the bathroom. Worked every time. we both got in for free.

  17. Chris L June 8, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    I recently visited Lincoln Village for the first time in about 10 years and was completely shocked when I realized that the theater, as well as a number of other buildings in the area, wasn’t there. I remember going to Borders years ago, but I guess it didn’t click that it had actually replaced the theater; I had just assumed that the theater was still there in the mess of buildings that made up Lincoln Village, and since I had always driven down Devon, I never really paid much attention to the renovation (and demolition) occurring within the plaza. I searched for images and articles about the theater online, but there isn’t much out there. So, I started to play through my experiences of the theater in my head, but I only remember bits and pieces of what it looked like from the inside. Maybe someone can help jog my memory?

    Back in the day, the parking lot had a much different configuration due to the extra buildings that were once there. Correct me if i’m wrong, but I believe What’s Cooking was tucked away in the back, and they had a huge sign that would stick out while driving down McCormick. Since I lived off of Devon, I would always get to the theater by driving through the parking lot adjacent to the river. Usually, my first stop was the 1-6 (which was brand-new and sparkly clean at the time), and when the ticket agent would inform me that the movie in question was actually playing at 7-9, my heart would sink. I guess I didn’t appreciate the “antiquity” of the 7-9 when I was a teenager; I wanted the latest and greatest. Funny that the 1-6 is rotting away as we speak, but I couldn’t care less about it. Driving down the long stretch past the 1-6 made me despise the whole area; it had become so trashy and run down. Silver Cue, Shadow(s) Nightclub, and an assortment of empty storefronts…that’s how I remember Lincoln Village–surrounded by vacant storefronts and motels. Hahaha. It was heathen central, and boy, do I miss those days…

    Back to the theater…I do remember the ticket or candy line (or maybe it was both) off to the left in front of the windows (I think). You couldn’t see out of the windows, but they were tall and bright. I always remember being nervous about my ride disappearing while I waited endlessly in line. I remember having to walk up or down a ramp of some sort to get into the main theater, and the movie screen wasn’t where you would expect it to be; it was either off to the side or higher up or lower down than where you would normally picture it. There was something about the layout of the theater that was bizarre and much different from 1-6, but I guess that’s what gave it its charm. I do recall the stadium seating and the gold curtains. They were outdated and gave the theater an old feeling, but, when you’re a teenager, you just don’t care about the fine touches. There were plenty of times when the previews would start playing right on the curtains as they would fail to expose the screen in time, and I always thought it was ridiculous that they couldn’t figure out how to operate everything in sync. The theater was nice at one point, but I remember watching it decay. At some point, I drove past it and saw it closed down for good; this must have been around 2001 or 2002. That’s the last memory I have of the theater. I still picture it standing that way to this day. It never occurred to me that I would actually become intrigued with this place years later.

    Does anyone have any pictures of the theater? Pictures of the interior? Someone help me draw a mental picture of the whole experience there. How did you get up to the two partitioned theaters? Where was everything placed inside? I’m just so fascinated by this place.

  18. Frances Archer July 22, 2014 at 9:02 am #

    Chris, thanks for writing. I really remember the Lincoln Village theatre from the time it opened as a single screen house, and not so much after the partition. I haven’t been able to find any photos of either version.

  19. Harriet Wisch Vogel November 16, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    This is directed to Bob Gassel who left a comment dated in 2012. Any chance that your dad is Jerome Gassel? If so, we were at Volta and Von…..way back in time.

  20. Frances Archer November 16, 2014 at 9:33 pm #

    Hi, Harriet. Hope we get a response!

  21. R Masa March 5, 2015 at 10:30 am #

    A post above made a reference to the theater being torn down. The theater was technically never demolished but converted to retail space that was occupied by Border’s Books. It’s currently a Ross Department Store.

  22. Chris L March 21, 2015 at 2:18 pm #

    Here is a link to the only other picture of this theater that I could find online:

    http://dreamofyou.deviantart.com/art/Lincoln-Village-7-9-159794069

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